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Artist Zachary Balber subverts Miami's real estate scene

|   Gallery Blog

by: Deirdra Funcheon | Dev, 11, 2023

Artist Zachary Balber pokes fun at Miami's over-the-top real estate scene while also exploring identity, class differences and housing (un)affordability in the series "Intimate Stranger."

What's happening: Balber was hired by real estate agents to photograph luxury properties to market them for sale.

  • While agents were in other rooms, he surreptitiously took portraits of himself — often in absurd, funny or nude poses — using a remote control.
  • Locations included Fisher Island, the Mondrian South Beach and Tommy Hilfiger's former home in Golden Beach.
  • The show includes 150 photos taken between 2013 and 2020.

Why it matters: The juxtaposition of Balber and his settings highlights the pretension in real estate properties that cost millions, yet feel lifeless.

  • Balber also toys with the concept of fitting in. He echoes Cindy Sherman, known for assuming different personas in her self-portraits.

Details: "Bonita Applebum" references A Tribe Called Quest song and shows Balber nude in a giant walk-in closet.

Context: Balber tells Axios he attended New World School of the Arts and studied under Maria Martinez-Cañas, then worked as an assistant to fashion photographer Bruce Weber.

  • Miami's aesthetic was defined in the 1950s by the Highwaymen's paintings of sunsets, Balber says. "I think that has been replaced by overly saturated, real estate, crappy photography."

What they're saying: Shooting the images felt secretive, Balber says, but "I'm watching the realtors and the agents take selfies also, and post it on their Instagrams and their dating profiles. And they're pretending to be all these other things that they're not."

Of note: The exhibit coincides with a housing crisis in which artists increasingly cannot afford homes themselves.

  • At times, Balber appreciated how the real estate industry supports an army of people. Other times, he was startled by stark class differences, as homeowners implored him to wear sterile booties and not touch anything.
  • "It was like, 'You're invited in, but don't get your cooties — your middle-class cooties — on me because I'm above this.'"

If you go: "Intimate Stranger" is on display at Artmedia Gallery, located at 350 NE 75th St., until Feb. 23.